How to Write a Speech in 20 Minutes (and why you should)

I received a lovely piece of advice from a friend earlier this week.

If you’re not embarrased by the first version of your product, you’ve launched it too late (Reid Hoffman, LinkedIn Founder)*

Anybody who runs their own business will be able to relate to that.

It doesn’t matter what industry you’re in, creating anything from scratch can be painstaking and we all, at some point get affected by perfection paralysis.

In business, before you launch a new product, you are told to create a minimum viable product (MVP). Essentially the most simple version of your product that solves the problem you have set out to defeat. The principle behind it is simple. Test it on a small section of your target market to prove it works and make it better. It might seem obvious, but most first timers ignore this advice and as a result, their products fail.

MVP’s don’t exist in the world of public speaking. Actually, that’s not true, the first draft of a speech is essentially an MVP and the problem is, most people deliver their talk for the very first time in front of the audience it was created for.

It’s funny, isn’t it? It doesn’t matter how much time we have to prepare for a talk, most speeches get written at the last possible minute. If it’s not the night before, it’s en route to the conference itself or while everyone else is distracted by one of the speakers who is on stage before you. And when I say written, I really mean panic-scribble 3-5 bullet points on the back of the conference programme.

The thing is, when you’ve done it once and got away with it, which admittedly, lots of people seem to, it’s hard not to fall out of the habit. It is after all the path of least resistance ultimately. Unless something goes dreadfully wrong, audience members will always tell you how insightful your talk was and can head home feeling satisfied that you’ve got away with blogging it. And that is absolutely fine if you’re not looking to get a specific result from of your talk, to do any more would be a waste of your time.

But, if you see public speaking as a means of achieving something bigger, whether it be building a brand, raising finance, increasing sales, starting a movement or lobbying governments, I could go on… that methodology won’t be good enough. Your talks might be enjoyed, but they won’t incite action and they will be nothing more than a distant memory by the time your audience arrives home.

Done right, speeches can literally change lives, but for that to happen, there needs to be a process in place and starting that process by creating an MVP for your talk is a surefire way to set off on the right track.


Because creating and testing an MVP or in speaking terms writing and delivering the first draft of your talk to a test audience will force you to improve your content whilst keeping laser sharp focus on the long term objectives of your talk, all in a safe environment that you can control. But even more important than that, because most people won’t.

You see, the thought of locking yourself in your office and grinding out a speech from start to finish on your laptop probably sounds worse than reading the terms and conditions on iTunes and guess what? It is, so don’t do that. Provided you know your talk’s purpose and your subject matter well enough; try this:

Panic-scribble some bullet points, press record on your phone and deliver it to either an empty room or better still, to a couple of people that won’t cast judgement, then get it transcribed (I use rev.com).

That is it! Job done! Draft 1 complete! You now have an MVP of a potentially life-changing speech.

Embarrassed by it? Good! So you should be, but be embarrassed safe in the knowledge that you didn’t deliver it live on stage (like you used to…).

Now seek feedback from people who are the same demographic as the audience you’re going to be delivering it in front of. Tweak it and do it again.


How many times?

Edit wise: Until you have achieved your talk’s legacy with someone in your test audience.
Delivery wise: until it’s effortless. The best speakers look like they are delivering a talk for the very first time and their pearls of wisdom are part of a well timed a stream of consciousness.

The bottom line is this, whether you’re writing a speech or launching a product the key to their success is the same and it starts with dropping your ego.

Create a V1.0/MVP, seek feedback from your audience/target market and develop your talk.

For anyone that has an important speech coming up, take heed of Eric Hoffman’s advice, but with a minor tweak:

‘If you’re not embarrassed by the first version of your speech, you’ve left it too late’ (Alex Merry, 2017!)

All of that of course assumes that you know what the hell to write. If you don’t, add 10 minutes on to the title and watch this video…

*No, it wasn’t Reid Hoffman who gave me this advice.

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